Reading 04: The Language of Love

To me the programming language you learn in is the most important. Once you have a good grasp of programming languages become something that can be picked up in less than a week usually. While the language you use could depend on a project, most high level languages can be used for almost any application, though some are definitely better than others. If I were to create an operating system, I would write it in c. But if I were to work on a web browser I would write it in html and javascript. The languages have been specialized for certain tasks, but generally there is a large amount of overlap in the syntax and so learning a specific language today becomes more trivial. In the past languages were like keys and locks. The could open up a whole new world while also hiding how it was done from others. Because only certain people would be able to understand each language it almost acted as its own cipher. In the current day, that is just not true. I have never programmed a line of java before in my life. However because I have used c, c++, and javascript I feel confident that even though I may not have one hundred percent conceptualization of the code, I will be able to understand the basic functionality of it and probably be able to replicate it in a language I know better. In a similar vein I feel I could learn Go very quickly even though I have never used it before. Languages are like tools and a tool box, if all of the tools were different kinds of screwdrivers. Each of the screwdrivers is slightly different, maybe one is a flat head and another is a philip’s head, but they all do similar jobs if in slightly different ways and to slightly different ends. After using Lisp in the last project and Scheme in Programming Paradigms I can say I have never been so frustrated with a parentheses before in my life. While they are undoubtedly strong and revolutionary, they are also very clunky and a far cry from what is able to be achieved with a modern programming language. I stopped using these languages as soon as I could, but I do appreciate the history behind them.


That being said I am not sure any programming language is better than another, again it’s kind of like the screwdrivers I mentioned earlier. Some people want to use an electric screwdriver, let it do all the work for you, that’s like python. Don’t worry about memory don’t worry about anything just write in english basically. But other people want to use traditional screwdrivers. They require less overhead, they are reliable and sometimes they can just get down and do things an electric one just can’t. Both are still effective and useful, but for different purposes. After going through the computer science program there are definitely languages I like better than others, some seem to be screwdrivers without a handle while others are drills, but in the end it’s a personal choice that can’t always be quantized.

Reading03: The Old Master Painter

While Paul Graham and Steven Levy’s definitions of a hacker share some similarities, there are a few key differences. Graham focuses on the idea of making something beautiful, normally related to software. This focus is very reliant on the idea that not all people who code are hackers, but that hackers are trying to do interesting things with code. In these components Graham and Levy have very similar definitions, however, there is a key difference. Graham’s hackers are trying to make something beautiful while Levy’s tend to write code simply for the sake of making code. Graham describes computers as simply the medium with which hackers work, while Levy talks about loving and totally understanding a computer. Graham describes the hacker as more of a maker or an artist, while Levy’s almost seem like mad scientists. I personally like the way Graham describes a hacker. I am much more interested in creating something with code, then in simply writing code. To make beautiful code is to make beautiful things with code. To stretch Graham’s analogy to painters, not only do painters care very little about the paint chemistry, they aren’t trying to make brush strokes for the sake of brush strokes, they are making something in the end. Making is central to Graham’s description of a hacker, as he likens them more toward writers and painters than mathematicians. This is also much more appealing to me than simply being a hacker for hackers sake. My favorite part of programming is having something interesting and beautiful that I have made at the end. I am extremely interested in using programming to create games and graphics and sounds and more. I like the idea of being a maker much more than being a hacker as Levy describes it. Another difference is that Levy focuses on money not being a part of hacking, but Graham embraces money. While he says that people should write beautiful code in their own time he also says that they should have a day job, similar to musicians. This is a very big divergence from Levy’s hackers who would hack all day everyday to the detriment of most other things. I feel like Graham speaks to me more in my love of making things, such as animations or games, more than to my making of things like web servers or search engines. The relentlessness he describes makes me excited to work on projects in animation, to put in long hours on little things that most people wouldn’t even notice, but I would know was right. While Levy’s hackers didn’t really appeal to me, I feel like Graham’s hackers are much more approachable and admirable. He puts an emphasis on being like artists, but also having a day job. Just because you are relentless in your chosen art doesn’t mean that you have to let your life fall to ruin around you. I also love the idea of making programming cool. Like the last line says we are the people who can make things that will convince the world that hacking is cool, like Da Vinci convinced the world that painting was cool.

Reading02: The Game Has Changed

Even more than previous generations of hackers, the game hackers were focused on making money. As more people gained access to personal computers more and more companies began to emerge which built software for these new machines, especially games. There was some pushback from the original hackers who looked down on people who only used computers and software written and built by other people. They felt it was an attack and threat to the hacker ethic. While I understand the basis for these arguments, people who did not understand or appreciate computers in the same way as the original hackers were beginning to influence the word of computers, I disagree with their negativity. Game hackers allowed not only people to make money working with computers, they also were able to spread a love of computers and an appreciation, though a different type of appreciation, to vastly more people. The original hackers were a highly niche group that had a large amount of prestige. They were people who went to some of the greatest universities in the world and had access to computers that no average person would ever see let alone own. Game hackers not only focused on many people who were new to computers, they made it more enjoyable and exciting for the average person. Most people are not interested in starting with code and maybe getting an interesting outcome. Game hackers allowed people to begin to see what was possible with computers and also think about what may be possible. Most people would probably be happy simply playing the games, but many people who were introduced to computers through games would go on to become some of the visionaries of the future. Therefore I see the spread of computers and the degradation of the hacker ethic as a good thing.


The hacker ethic was not totally dead though. In places like Summer Camp, a lot of the same principles as the hacker ethic were being expressed while people were also making money. Though that to eventually became totally driven by money and business it never lost its innovation or its underlying culture. A lot of the same culture is seen alive in silicon valley today.


I also have a soft spot for the game hackers because they brought about some of my favorite aspects of the computer age. Because of people like the Williams or John Harris video games and computer graphics became wide spread and what they are today. The people who made the original Tron film were not following any preset plan, they were hackers and they created a whole new method of film and world inside the mainframe. These people have had more of an impact on our society then maybe anyone else in the last fifty years. I think the game hackers are the most inspirational group we have talked about yet.